Isaac Hayden was a bit of a one-off last season, the only really young player that Rafa Benitez relied on in the Championship week after week.

Despite only nine previous league starts, all in the Championship, Rafa gave him 33 league appearances, including 28 starts.

Playing alongside Jonjo Shelvey the pair made an excellent pairing, often dominating the opposition.

Shelvey seen as the flair and Hayden the energy/muscle, although that was harsh on the former Arsenal player. For a tall player he has excellent feet and should get into more forward positions as he has the ability to dribble and provide a threat.

Whilst Jack Colback has been totally excluded, last season’s main midfield pair now face new competition.

So far Rafa has shown inclination to change his formation to accommodate all three, so it is a case of any two from three, as Shelvey and Hayden, compete with Mikel Merino.

Little doubt that at the moment the Spaniard would be the first midfielder on most fans’ team sheet, and for Rafa as well, it is difficult to see Merino not starting against Southampton.

Jonjo Shelvey had to wait his chance and Isaac Hayden has been honest to admit that his form hasn’t been good enough to make him a sure starter.

Feeling that he had dropped below what was needed, Hayden says he went to see Rafa Benitez to discuss it.

Looking both short and longer-term, Isaac Hayden believes that the team ‘are always going to improve’ if the players listen to Rafa and his coaches.

Hayden also point to the age of the midfield trio as a big positive, plenty of scope for Merino (21), Hayden (22) and Shelvey (25) to progress, though I’m not so sure about Mohamed Diame (30)…

Personally, I would still like to see the three midfielders tried together as Ayoze Perez offers nothing going forward and I can’t see how it would weaken the team, particularly in a defensive sense.

Isaac Hayden:

“I set myself high standards and I understand my game, I understand what I need to improve on.

“I just believe I’m an honest person and if I have a good game I feel I can say I’ve had a good game, and if I’ve had a bad game I feel I can say I’ve had a bad game. I’m not afraid to admit things or take things on the chin.

“It’s something that I felt (below par form this season) and I spoke to the manager about it, watched clips back…but it’s about becoming the best player you can be.

“We’ve got a young group, you have obviously got me and Mikel and Jonjo in there at the minute, fighting for positions in the team.

“It improves us, obviously having Mo Diame who can play there too – it just keeps improving us.

“Every day we keep on improving, we are still young and not the finished article by far.

“It would be a bit silly to waste our potential and the resources we have got with the manager and the coaches; the facilities are good, the stadium is good, the training ground is good.

“We have coaches and a manager who are willing to give us their time and effort, which is not necessarily something a lot of managers and coaching staff would be willing to give.

“If we can keep using that information and advice, then we are always going to improve.”